Delusion.

Delusion.

Why do so many business owners fail to hit their goals? Why do your employees often fail to reach their targets and projects on time and under budget? Researchers in something as innocuous as the sport of golf have published some new insights on an old concept that we’ve covered here and in the Look Over My Shoulder Monthly Marketing Program, called cognitive bias.

David Dunning, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, and his team asked the question, “With all of the technology today’s golfer has to see the green with laser-guided binoculars and GPS devices, who can predict within a few feet exactly where the hole is located and see to the front, middle and back of the green, why do they still think they will hit the ball farther than they actually do?”

According to participants in the study, 40% of golfers’ approach shots landed short of the green. This was eight times more than the percentage that landed behind the green. Dunning and the Arccos system measured over 6 million such golf shots and only 9% and 10% went to the left and right of the green, respectively. 5% landed long and eight times that amount (800% more!) landed short. Why? Because golfers tend to make their club decision incorrectly based on historical recollection of their best shots.

Orthodontists do the same thing. When we hire new employees, launch new marketing campaigns, invite patients and referring doctors to an event or implement a new system in the office for referrals – we all make false assumptions, based on cognitive bias and historical recollection of our best performance in those areas.

We forget that 25% of all new hires will quit or be fired within the first year. So, we hire someone and we’re shocked, betrayed and frustrated that it didn’t work out. We ignore or conveniently forget that direct mail is opened at an average rate of one half of one percent in the U.S. consumer marketplace. So, we mail 1,000 postcards and we’re aggravated that only 5 or 6 patients call. We send one email to referring patients and doctors to invite them to an appreciation event and we’re disappointed when only 100 people show up. What about that time when 500 showed up? We ignore the fact that a 25% email open rate is more than double the national average, yet still an “F” if you took email open rates as seriously as you took organic chemistry in college.

I teach clients that it’s fine to “swing for the fences,” and I often push them to set bigger goals than they had when they first walked into a private consulting day with me. Yet, I simultaneously spend 10X more blood, sweat and tears getting them to accept reality and pragmatically prepare them to go into the game using the right club.

Listen, it’s not an ego boost when you realize you only hit your 7-iron 128 yards on average, not 150 like you thought. If you want to crush the golf ball, go hire a pro and spend more time at the club. I’m not interested in your golf game, only how the lessons in this psychological research can help you in life. If you want to crush it in business, get better at understanding the right information, accepting its reality and making better decisions.

Stop investing in marketing based on your gut instinct. Stop hiring people like it’s always going to work out. Stop assuming everything is going to land on the green.

Find out why the ball is over in the rough and then do something about it.

Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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